I was browsing through Mark Bittman’s NY Times blog, Bitten, looking for something interesting to do with squid (found that) and came across a narrative on Bouillabaisse. I had never made bouillabaisse… it always seemed complicated and mysterious, but this one seemed easy enough. I was inspired to get a couple of fish frames from San Francisco Fish Co. in the Ferry Building and get to work. w_fish_frames

Here’s what Mark Bittman had to say:

September 18, 2009, 12:01 pm A Long Island Bouillabaisse By Mark Bittman Speaking of Julia Child, as people seem to be doing, her version of bouillabaisse was among the first things I cooked when, in the mid-70s, I returned from my first trip to Provence. I doubt I’ve made it the same way twice since then. But I was at my friend Bob’s house the other day and we decided to more-or-less follow the recipe, since we had just about everything it took. The drill is pretty easy, once you assemble the ingredients, but assembling the ingredients can take a while. I gently sauteed (the chefs would say “sweated”) leeks, onions, and garlic in a lot of olive oil. (There are those who argue that the most important element of this style of fish soup is the emulsion of olive oil in water, and that there must be plenty of the former.) To that I added parsley, thyme, basil, fennel seeds, and chopped tomatoes. Then came 3 or 4 big, fresh and meaty skeletons of fish, and heads, roughly chopped. Am I forgetting anything? Water of course, and more olive oil, and I think I saw Bob sliding some Cointreau in there (we had no orange peel, always a nice addition). Cover and simmer for less than a half-hour. At that point I turned it off and left for an hour to allow it to steep and cool for a bit, then strained it and voila — gorgeous. Now you can do whatever you like. We chose to add potatoes (noodles are good, too) and celery (and/or carrots, fennel is a natural also) then cooked it until they were almost tender, then added big chunks of white fish (nearly any seafood will “work”), while we made the garlicky-spicy mayonnaise called rouille and toasted some bread. But it’s all in the broth, and I must say Julia nailed that one.

Simple enough, and I can do that, but since it’s my first time, I thought it prudent to check out Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking to get the basic quantities to go with Mark Bittman’s narrative. I found a clue on page 52:

1 cup minced onion (1 medium onion)w_veg-for-soup

3/4 cup minced leek

1/2 cup olive oil

4 cloves minced garlic

1 pound chopped tomatoes

2 1/2 quarts water

6 parsley sprigs

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon thyme or basil (used fresh basil and a pinch of thyme)w_veg_herbs

1/8 teaspoon fennel seeds

orange peel (didn’t have… put in a glug of triple sec)

1 tablespoon salt

grinds of pepper

2 fish frames from SF Fish, 3 1/4 pounds

w_veg-cooking w_soup-cooks

I got out my red 5Q Dutch oven and started cooking the onions, garlic leek and tomatoes. When I added the fish frames and the water — 2 1/2 quarts is a lot — my pot clearly wasn’t big enough, so I had to switch to my 7 quart white Le Creuset. I hate when that happens, it’s a mess. In any case, the balance of the cooking went well. After straining, I ended up with 2 quart jars of broth – Julia calls it Strained Fish Soup (Soupe de Poisson) – which I put in the fridge, and about 4 cups went into the freezer for future use. It tasted divine. Having taken care of the fish frames, I had a few days to contemplate what I wanted my bouillabaisse to be. As Mark Bittman said “Now you can do whatever you want.”

I looked up bouillabaisse at Wikipedia. Their commentary broke down the etymology of the word and went on to describe the traditional fish stew from Marseille. Of course the fish mentioned are from the Mediterranean Sea, so back to Julia, who wrote her book for Americans.

“Some of the fish should be firm-fleshed and gelatinous like halibut, eel and winter flounder, and some tender and flaky like hake, baby cod, small pollock and lemon sole. Shellfish are neither necessary nor particularly typical, but they always add glamor and color if you wish to include them.”

I decided to keep it simple, so I got tilapia, snapper and bay scallops. Hey, now that I know how easy it is, I can adventure into glamor and color at another time.

2 quarts broth into Joyce Chen wokw_bouillabaisse-cooks

1/2 big fennel bulb, chopped bite size

2 carrots cut in chunks

2 potatoes quartered and sliced thick

1 potato quartered for rouille

4 whacks celery

a handful of noodles

fish tilapia 0.65 pounds, cut in 1 inch pieces

snapper 0.40 pounds, cut in 1 inch pieces

bay scallops 0.40 pounds

Brought the broth to a boil, added vegetables and noodles and simmered for about 8 minutes until quartered potato chunks were done. Fished those out and set aside for the rouille, added fish and cooked for 4 minutes. I made Rouille in my big bronze mortar… surprisingly easy to pound and mash, and such fun. This is fabulous added to the soup… very garlicy but not particularly spicy.


Mark Bittman didn’t say anything about serving and presentation. Once the fish was cooked, I just served it in a bowl, with good toast and the rouille on the side. w_bouillabaisse_served Again, when I get adventurous and cook for six or eight with six or eight kinds of fish/shellfish, I’ll present it properly. Here’s what Julia says:

“The fish are removed to a platter; the broth is served in a tureen. Each guest helps himself to broth and eats them together in a big soup plate. Wine — rose or a light, strong young red such as a Cotes de Provence or Beaujolais, or a strong, dry white wine from the Cotes de Provence, or a Riesling.”

w2_mortor_pestle While the rouille is an important part of the meal, it’s a separate operation and is served separately. I was glad to use my big mortar and pestle that I got in the Old City of Jerusalem. I rarely use it since I have both a blender and food processor, but I should use it more often when blender or food processor are called for. The machines whip air into the mix – sometimes good, sometimes not so good. I should think that potato soup or tomato soup would benefit from the use of a mortar and pestle.

Rouille [garlic, pimiento and chili pepper sauce]

Mastering the Art of French Cooking, makes about 1 cup

The following strong sauce is passed separately with fish soup or bouillabaise; each guest helps himself and stirs it into the soup.

1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper simmered for several minutes in salted water and drained [or canned pimento]

A small chile pepper boiled until tender [or drops of Tabasco sauce]

1 medium potato cooked in the soup

4 cloves mashed garlic

1 teaspoon basil, thyme or savory

Pound all ingredients in a bowl or mortar for several minutes to form a very smooth, sticky paste.

4 to 6 tablespoons fruity olive oil

salt and pepper

Drop by drop, pound or beat in the olive oil as for making a mayonnaise. Season to taste

2 or 3 tablespoons hot soup

Just before serving, beat in the hot soup by dribbles. Pour into a sauceboat.

All in all, that made a really good meal — actually two meals and a couple of lunches. But the real benefit was my learning process. I’m eager to do it again, accompanied by friends. Bouillabaisse is no longer a mystery, I even learned to spell it.

One thought on “Bouillabaisse

  1. WOW! What an adventure and tasty reward at the end. I just finished reading the Julia memoir and was fascinated by how much work went into each recipe, including the constant struggles with her co-author. Of COURSE she nailed it.


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